The silliest thing has been riding high in my Google News headlines since last week – The CEO of Canalys still thinks Microsoft is going to kill the Surface line in 2019. I am here to tell you I am LOLing myself silly at that piece of awful crystal ball viewing.
Surface got a pretty rocky start, and the group does still have the occasional brain fart. The original ARM Surface was a horrible mistake of a Sinofsky-an scale. No one was ready and no one wanted an ARM-only Surface that could only run the horrendous apps that were in the Windows 8 app store – mostly fart apps at the time. The Surface Pro was a better machine, barely. It had a small screen, was too thick, it ran hot, and the battery life was short.
But something happened with the third generation of machines. We expected a Surface Mini with an Atom CPU. A plethora of Atom-powered Windows tablets appeared in retail, mostly from Chinese brands were never heard of before (or since). But a few days before the launch even, Satya Nadella (rightly) killed off the new Surface Mini because he knew it would be a commercial disaster, much like the nearly $1 billion write-off for the original Surface line has been.
Instead, the Surface Pro 3 was launched, with a better battery, a slim body, a flexible hinge, a workable (but still un-lappable unless you are a leggy freak) keyboard, and a focus on Intel Core processors. This was a machine that sold, and sold well, eventually leading to an international distribution model that introduced Surface into commercial customers – Microsoft’s base.
Stock market experts, such as Canalys, have repeatedly predicted that Satya Nadella would kill off the Surface line. And naturally, some quotes from the likes of Lenovo and Dell agree. But, there’ wrong – very wrong.
Surface is a multibillion-dollar business. Most will only see the public efforts to advertise on TV or sell to consumers through Best Buy (US) or Dixons (UK) but the real money is in sales to commercial customers. Through distribution to Microsoft partners and alliances with the likes of Dell (funnily enough), they can sell Surface in larger numbers to small & medium businesses, corporate and enterprise customers.
Surface Pro is a top seller. Surface Laptop is a success too, and Surface Book holds its own as a premium laptop. These devices have driven Microsoft to become the number 5 PC shipper in the USA, according to Gartner.
Where is Samsung, Acer, Toshiba, and all the others – below Microsoft. Are they going to close up shop on making laptops and PC devices too? I think not!
Not all is rosy. The Surface Go is a strange device; this is another dance with a strange processor choice with the Intel Pentium – the 1990s called and asked for my plaid shirt back. I am in agreement that this isn’t the best choice for consumers or productivity workers, but my employer is selling them pretty well into education – Chromebooks dominating education is very much an American thing and the market is still in contention in the rest of the world.
I really don’t get the Surface Headphones. That’s one of those “someone had too much time on their hands” thing. It’s a headset to compete with Beats and Bose, with it will never have the distribution or desirability of those brands. Plus it’s only available in the USA.
Marketing the Brand
Surface Studio 1 had an odd spec with a bad hard drive and low power graphics card. But even if Microsoft only sold a few hundred of them, I would class Studio as a huge success. I think that Surface Studio perfectly illustrates what Surface is all about. The day after Microsoft revealed the beautiful all-in-one device, the tech press was raving about Microsoft. There were even headlines proclaiming that Microsoft had outdone Apple. That right there was the win.
Surface is a vision. It highlights what Microsoft can do. The message can be for many audiences. Consumers see beautiful new devices. Professionals see creative machines that are designed to work how they work or take full advantage of Windows 10. The media have something to compete with Mac monotony. And the stock market has something exciting to latch on to – Microsoft was already on track to make a fortune from The Cloud before prices rocketed from a decade of $25/share to over $100/share.
How many times have we seen Microsoft release a marketing campaign to demonstrate their “hipness”, their abilities, or some technology. We watched, we groaned, we might have laughed. But Surface, from the Pro 3 onwards, has been mostly successful. The sales figures are just a bonus.